Jim Obergefell’s name will forever be linked to same-sex marriage in the United States, and yet he remains mostly unknown to most Americans. The real estate agent and technology consultant from Ohio, who lost his husband to ALS, began a battle to have their marriage recognized by their home state in 2013 so he could be listed as John Arthur’s legal surviving spouse.
The lawsuit ultimately wound its way to the Supreme Court, and on June 26, 2015, the high court announced in a 5-4 decision that marriage equality was the law of the land.
Fast-forward past the whirlwind of that amazing day, the celebrations from Stonewall to West Hollywood, and a moving commemoration in Philadelphia on Independence Day, and life has returned to normal for Obergefell. Normal, except for the Tuesday night in January in which he tied that same purple-and-yellow bow tie he wore June 26 and traveled back to Washington, D.C., to attend his first and President Obama’s last State of the Union Address.
Obergefell spoke to The Advocate about that experience.
The Advocate: So first things first, did you see Kim Davis, perhaps meet her? What’s your opinion of her attending the State of the Union?
Obergefell: No, I didn’t see Kim Davis last night. I didn’t spend much time thinking about her having been invited. We’re free to believe what we want. However, I believe in an America where every citizen is guaranteed the same rights and opportunities as every other American, even when our opinions differ. I would never use my personal beliefs to deny another person their constitutional rights or even the right to attend a State of the Union address as an invited guest.
Davis told a reporter who asked her what she thought of the speech, “It was a speech.” What did you think?
Oh, I loved the president’s address! And I was so honored to be there to see it in person. My favorite thing is that he really stressed the theme of “working together” and looking to the future, not back. I was inspired by his speech. He covered so many important messages. I left honored and humbled. It was magnificent, and I was personally inspired.
Was there anything he left out that you anticipated you might hear? I thought it would be a lock that he would mention marriage equality, given that you were there.
Well, there are so many challenges ahead, and although it was unfortunate he didn’t specifically address transgender civil rights, I know that is a cause this president believes in and we as a society must tackle. And we’re not done.
Come to think of it, it was just last year he became the first president to utter the words “transgender” and “bisexual” in a State of the Union address. Would you tell us the story of how you got into that balcony seat?
I was at first invited by Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon (cosponsor of the Equality Act), and that alone was very exciting. Part of how it works is his office has to let the White House know who they’ve invited, and then, I was told, the White House and the first lady’s staff said we want him in the first lady’s box. From the first time I heard this was happening I was surprised. I never even considered I’d be in the rotunda for the address, but to sit in the same box as the first lady, it’s just stunning! And to be surrounded by the incredible, richly diverse group who did such amazing things, it was very meaningful and inspiring.
Did you think at any point, I wish John were here to share this moment? I hope it’s all right that I ask you that personal a question.
Absolutely. He’s always with me, wherever I go. He is with me in some way in all things: in my thoughts, when I look at my wedding ring. And yes, I did think exactly that at one point: I wish John were here to experience this.
But from what you said, you felt, at the very least, he was there in spirit?
Yes, he was. And always will be.